without Nadal, the road to Rome is open for Djokovic

The defeat of defending champion Rafael Nadal at the Masters 1000 in Rome cleared the way for new favorite Novak Djokovic, who qualified suffering for the semi-finals on Friday, but it also whetted the appetite of Alexander Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Casper Ruud, also in the last four.

Among the ladies, the holder and world No.1 Iga Swiatek signed her 26th victory in a row, also synonymous with the semi-final, a stage where the Tunisian Ons Jabeur (7th) also invites herself, passed near the exit of the track before to redress the situation against the Greek Maria Sakkari.

Without the phenomenon Carlos Alcaraz, absent to prepare Roland-Garros (May 22-June 5), and without Nadal, the emperor with ten coronations in Rome limping off the stage, Novak can envisage a sixth title on Roman clay . And a first trophy in 2022, after the false start represented by his expulsion from Australia for lack of vaccination.

Canadian Félix Auger-Aliassime (9th), 21, did everything to thwart his plans during a very high level battle on Friday. But “Nole” was able to tighten the game to pass in two tight sets 7-5, 7-6 (7/1).

“He has a deadly serve, honestly it’s not easy to return,” Djokovic pointed out as he walked off the court.

This victory – his 999th on the circuit – ensures him to keep his place of world N.1 coveted by Daniil Medvedev on Monday.

As in 2020, the year of his last title in Rome, the Serb will find Casper Ruud (10th in the world) in the semi-finals. The Norwegian dominated Canadian Denis Shapovalov (7-6 (9/7), 7-5), who defeated Nadal on Thursday.

“Casper Ruud is a hard worker, I hope to play as well as tonight,” anticipated the Serb.

– Zverev thinks of Nadal –

But Alexander Zverev, another former winner of Rome (in 2017), is also a candidate to regain the crown abandoned by Nadal, after beating Chilean Cristian Garin (45th in the world) 7-5, 6-2 on Friday.

The 25-year-old German had a thought for Nadal: “I’m sorry for Rafa. I hope he’s fine, he has ten days to be able to play in Paris.”

In the semi-final, the world No.3 will find Stefanos Tsitsipas (5th), who beat Jannik Sinner (13th) 7-6 (7/5), 6-2, on a central court white-hot by the sun and an audience acquired from the Italian.

The 23-year-old Greek suffered against the Azzurro’s millimeter drop shots, but was solid on serve to pocket the tie-break and then unroll.

This will be the third semi-final in a month between Zverev and Tsitsipas after Monte-Carlo (victory for the Greek before winning the tournament) and Madrid (success for the German, beaten in the final by Carlos Alcaraz).

“He’s a player who challenges me a lot. He’s hard to beat,” commented Tsitsipas.

– 26 in a row for Swiatek –

Among the women, the world No.1 and defending champion Iga Swiatek is racing towards a fifth final in a row, after dominating 7-6 (7/2), 6-0 the Canadian Bianca Andreescu (90th).

Swiatek will meet Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka, seeded N.3, in the semi-finals for a repeat of the final in Stuttgart at the end of April, where the 20-year-old Pole won her fourth consecutive tournament after Doha, Indian Wells and Miami.

The former Roland-Garros winner (in 2020) did not drop a set in Rome, continuing with a 26th victory in a row.

Since 2000, only Venus Williams (35, the record), Serena Williams and Justine Henin have done better: “I’m pretty happy with that because consistency is the thing I wanted to work on last year.”

Jabeur, titled in Madrid in the absence of Swiatek, relied on her confidence of the moment to redress a very badly embarked situation against the Greek Maria Sakkari (4th) 1-6, 7-5, 6-1.

She had one foot out, in the second set, trailing 1-6, 2-5, service to follow for the Greek. But was able to find his “grinta” to pocket the next eight games and knock out Sakkari.

“Confirming Madrid’s performance is very important,” commented the Tunisian, who is determined to win a Grand Slam this year.


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